Knights still a hot ticket

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

The London Knights are again the hottest ticket in the Ontario Hockey League.

The puck doesn't drop for another week on their 2005-06 season, but it's pretty much assured they'll be sold out for all 34 home games.

That's 9,090 a game, multiplied by 34, which equals 309,060 for the season.

The Knights, hit by graduation, are predicted to finish in the middle of the pack, but their popularity at the box office is a byproduct of winning their first OHL and Memorial Cup championships in a 40-year history.

The championship banners will be unfurled at the home opener a week tonight and that game, against the Saginaw Spirit, is sold out.

"I think this is a reflection on what we've done the last couple of years -- both were 50-win seasons," Knights general manager Mark Hunter said yesterday.

"People want to see winners, they want to see good hockey, and I think we have been providing them with that."

Hunter and his brother, Dale, the head coach, bought the franchise in May 2000.

They finished below .500 the first two seasons, then posted years of 31, 53 and 59 wins.

Hunter said the brothers knew London was a great junior hockey market before they bought the team -- it was one of the reasons they pursued the franchise when it went on the market -- but attendance has exceeded their expectations.

A curtain was installed at the John Labatt Centre for the upper bowl (the lower bowl seats 6,000), but it has never been drawn for a Knights game.

"I look at the situation when London won only three games (3-60-3 in 1995-96) and the fans were still very loyal at that time. Even though I was with an opposing team (coaching the Sarnia Sting), it was nice to see," Mark Hunter said.

"I have to admit I was amazed and we had a good inkling if we did our job, this franchise could be a success."

The Knights capped season ticket sales in June at 6,800, the most in team history and 400 more than last season.

Another 1,500 to 2,000 seats each game are sold through group sales, with the remaining seats and standing room available to the general public.

They could have sold all seats through season tickets, "but I want new fans in the building.

"And just because you're successful, you don't cut something out to make a little bit more money, which we could through more season tickets."

The Knights "partnered" with the Ottawa 67's to set an OHL championship series attendance record of 46,994 for their five-game set in May.

The Knights might not make it that far this year, but Hunter said, "Our coaching staff will put a good product on the ice.

"We won't win quite as many (as the last two seasons), but we should be entertaining. We'll win games 7-6. Is that entertaining? I don't know. But fans do like to see goals scored."

It's a question mark for how many goals the Knights will score, but there's no question as to their popularity.

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: The London Knights conclude their exhibition schedule against the Mississauga IceDogs at the John Labatt Centre. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Suspended: Knights forward Josh Beaulieu has been suspended for the first five regular season games for "instigating an altercation and physically interacting with an unwilling opposing player" during an exhibition game against the Sarnia Sting on Sept. 2. Commissioner David Branch said the ruling fell under "bullying tactics."


Videos

Photos